The Return of Sunset Shimmer

by Never2muchpinkie

Chapter 20: Stardust Flare

“Ow!” Sunset grimaced as the bandage tightened around her injured back hoof. Using a stick as a splint Celestia continued wrapping Sunset’s hoof.

When it was finished Sunset tested her leg. She could walk a little better, but she was still wiped out by the day’s events.

All of them sat in a circle. Celestia put a wing on Sunset’s shoulder. “Sunset, I want to hear your story. I want to hear the truth of how this all began.”

Sunset looked up at her, then nodded. “Alright.” She looked down at the floor of the room. “Well, I guess… the most honest thing of all to say… is…”

Stardust’s words rang in her ears. “Deep down, whether you want to admit it or not, you never wanted to apologize to Celestia; The truth, the REAL truth, is that you don’t believe you were in the wrong for what you did. You came back… because you felt OBLIGATED to, not because you genuinely thought you should.”

A lot of things he said had been lies and twisted words, but some of it was based on truth. She took a deep breath and looked up at Celestia again. “The honest truth is that I resented you for what you did. And a part of me resented Twilight too.”

“I see…” Celestia gave a short nod. “I expected as much.”

“I was your student, excelling in all things. Then you began to distance yourself from me. I thought I had done something to displease you, and tried working harder and harder to regain your approval. If you had just told me that you wanted me to make friends then this could have all been avoided. I would be sitting where Twilight is now, having accomplished all the great things she did, like freeing your sister from the darkness, or becoming an alicorn.”

“But would you really?” Celestia replied gently. “Keep in mind that Twilight actually ignored my orders to make friends when I told her to.”

“She did?” Sunset asked.

“I did?” Twilight said at the same time.

“Initially,” said Celestia. “As Luna’s banishment neared its end I sent you to Ponyville with the hope you’d discover the Elements of Harmony. Of course without the light of friendship in your heart and other ponies to wield them they would have been nigh useless in your solitary hooves. By myself I could use the Elements, but I only succeeded in sealing her away. I could not free her from the darkness like you did.

“You basically ignored everyone that tried to befriend you, and only grudgingly allowed your future friends to come along with you. Had they not come to you and followed along then what would have happened once you got to the castle? It was only through the trials you went through together that made you start to see how good friendship could feel. So in actuality telling Twilight to make friends turned out no differently than if I hadn’t said it at all.”

“I guess you have a point there,” said Twilight. “I didn’t think making friends should take precedence over protecting Equestria. I should have known you wouldn’t assign me a task for no reason.”

“If I had told you back then to make friends to power the Elements of Harmony you certainly would have put in the effort specifically for that purpose, but not for the sake of actually being friends. And thus with no true sense of unity they would have been useless among you.”

Celestia paused, taking in a slow breath. “I am old, but even I am not without my flaws. There are times I don’t spell everything out for the sake of letting my students learn things for themselves. It was my hope that by spending less time with you, Sunset, that you’d take more notice of your fellow students and begin to bond with them, much like Twilight did. Ultimately that didn’t pan out, and you abandoned me completely.

“I was very proud of you for what you had achieved, and I said so. I really did think you might be the one I was searching for, the one best suited to wield the Elements of Harmony. However, I do admit that I failed you. I failed you in a big way.”

“And what way was that?” Sunset replied, a bit of an edge in her voice.

“I was too generous with my compliments and praise. Because your talent was real and your grades were excellent I couldn’t exactly take back anything I had said, but I wound up giving you a swelled head. Your ego caused you to look down on everyone else for not doing everything on their own. I made sure not to repeat that same mistake with Twilight.

“It was never my intention to cause you such pain, and for that I am sorry.”

Sunset had a funny feeling in her chest. Somehow, she felt that that was all she really wanted. She wanted to hear Celestia take responsibility for her failings. She nuzzled into Celestia’s side. “I forgive you.”

Twilight pulled Spike closer to her, wanting to hug something. Spike was a little more awake now, but he still didn’t want to strain himself.

Sunset sat up straight. “Truth be told I felt that I was in the right for what I did. I thought Celestia was being unreasonable. I functioned just fine in the human world. After the darkness in my heart was extinguished and I spent time being friends with Twilight’s human world versions of her friends I felt kinda bad for what I had done in the past. It only felt right to apologize for leaving and stealing the Element.

“Even though I told myself I should and it was the right thing to do, the truth is that I didn’t really want to. I was still angry at Celestia, but because of what my anger had led to last time I pushed it down and ignored it. I grew fearful of those feelings, and so I tried to pretend they weren’t there. Because I couldn’t acknowledge my true feelings, and because I was too afraid to tell my friends, I was easily taken in by Stardust’s story.”

“Who is this Stardust fella anyways?” asked Applejack.

“That thing… it said that it was Starswirl the Bearded, and that Celestia sealed him away and called him a traitor for trying to become an alicorn with the power of the amulet. Is there any truth to that?”

Twilight looked horrified that a pony she had looked upon as a hero could have betrayed her mentor. “That was just another lie it told, right? Princess?”

Princess Celestia had a mournful look on her face. She sighed. “It’s close to the truth, with the key details changed. The pony I sealed away was NOT Starswirl. It was his apprentice, Stardust Flare.”

“Starswirl had an apprentice?”

“Starswirl was an extraordinarily gifted unicorn, creating a great number of the spells we still use today. He could spend weeks or months studying a spell, modifying it endlessly until he deemed it perfection. Like you, he had a great love of learning for its own sake. He created spells for the sake of opening up the world and its principles, to better understand how things related to other things. That his passion helped out other ponies was simply a beneficial side-effect.”

“I remember…” Twilight paused, thinking of the past. “You said the reason I could become an alicorn but Starswirl could not was because he didn’t have friends like I do. Are you trying to say he didn’t care about others?”

Celestia shook her head. “Not at all. He was much like you. You cared about others, but you pushed them to the side in pursuit of furthering your education and knowledge. However, unlike you, he never grew out of that. He was held in high regard by scholars and the upper-crust for his contributions, but he was reclusive and didn’t talk to other ponies that often. I was lucky to see him every half a year, if he was creating a new spell. When he was taking a break he was more open, but some new thing would always catch his eye before long.”

“So where does this Stardust fella come into this?” asked Rainbow.

Sunset spoke up. “Well, before we continue the story I have one question: do you think it was wrong for others to want to become an alicorn? The old me would likely dismiss it as just a selfish act on your part, not wanting too many alicorns around as it would weaken your position as princess. The current me doesn’t understand it.”

Celestia said, “Well, I can answer that easily enough. Power is a dangerous thing in the hooves of those that aren’t able to handle it. If everyone was an alicorn it would be a form of equality, but it would also cause disharmony, as many would feel they have a right to power. Imagine how things would have been different had you been an alicorn when we had our falling out. You might not have ran away, but chose to fight.”

Sunset set her head down, letting out a thoughtful “Mmm.”

Celestia looked out the window thoughfully. “We always want to trust those near to us, but they don’t always have the best intentions. That is why power must only be given to those that can handle it responsibly. All of our greatest foes and threats to Equestria have come from those that sought to use power to subjugate others and harm them, whether physically or emotionally. Stardust is one such example.”

“Princess?” Fluttershy said quietly.

“Yes, Fluttershy?”

“Was Stardust always like that?”

“I honestly can’t say.” She looked at Fluttershy, continuing, “Stardust was Starswirl’s apprentice, not mine, so I didn’t have much contact with him except when I’d go to visit Starswirl. As I said earlier Starswirl was someone completely devoted to his work and studying. It wouldn’t surprise me if he missed Stardust’s true intentions. Of course, Stardust could have started out like Sunset or Twilight, then went down the wrong path.”

“I have a question,” said Sunset.

“Yes?” Celestia replied, turning to look at her.

“Stardust was obviously lying about who he actually was, but I think most of the story he told about who he was is accurate. I want to know as much of the real truth as possible, so I want to tell you what he told me.”

Celestia nodded. “Very well.”

“He said that he wanted to study even more powerful and advanced spells, and, as he didn’t want there to be collateral damage he would only entrust new spells to himself alone until they were perfected. He, however, had reached his limits magically. The only way to study those kinds of spells on his own was to gain more power. Thus, he wanted to achieve alicornhood, which would give him the necessary boost he desired and allow him to keep practicing in relative solitude.

“At some point before the spell was completed he told Celestia about it, who tried to discourage him from doing it. Starswirl ignored these warnings and kept toiling towards creating a working spell. At some point he found the jewel that become the center of the amulet, and began infusing it with as much power as he could.

“When he had completed the spell and was about to try it out Celestia barged in, accused him of treason, and sealed his spirit inside the Amulet. Pretending to have no knowledge of Starswirl’s fate Celestia named a wing of the library after him, pretending to honor him.”

Twilight looked put out. “Princess… is that true? Did you really have a falling out with Starswirl?”

Celestia slowly breathed in, then just as slowly let it out. “More lies,” she said dispassionately. “He really knew how to twist things.”

“So… none of that is true?” she said hopefully.

“Replace Starswirl with Stardust and you’ll have the truth.”

“What do you mean?” asked Rarity, rubbing Spike’s forehead.

For a moment Celestia let her rage show, but she reined it in and took another slow breath to calm herself. “Starswirl did indeed tell me of his intentions. He explained about the jewel, and how it could be used to sustain oneself with an outside power source. It is true that he ignored my initial warning, I will say that. He was too invested and thinking too far ahead of his new experiments to really listen to me.

“I spoke to him again when I found out that he had continued on despite my warning.”

Applejack raised a hoof. “Princess?”

“Yes, Applejack?”

“Did ya think Starswirl was gonna turn out power hungry or become evil?”

Celestia shook her head. “Not at all. I trusted him very much to do the right thing.”

“So then what was the problem? Why not just let him become an alicorn?”

Celestia paused for a short while before answering. “It wasn’t him I was concerned about. Those with evil intentions can only flourish with power. Having a spell that could drastically increase one’s capabilities with little more than some magical talent, a scroll, and a jewel that was filled with auxiliary power was something too dangerous to be seen by the public.”

“You could have just told him to burn the thing when he was done,” said Rainbow.

Celestia shook her head. “No, it wouldn’t have worked. Starswirl would never willingly consent to destroying knowledge. Knowledge can be a very powerful thing, and he wouldn’t have wanted to get rid of something he put so much work into.

“I pleaded with him to stop his work, explaining my misgivings. It was a long conversation, and he was very reluctant, but he eventually agreed that the danger of misuse was too high, and he abandoned his quest for alicornhood.”

“Excuse me, Princess,” said Twilight. “That spell Starswirl was working on… was it the same one that I altered?”

Celestia nodded. “’From one to another, another to one. A mark of one’s destiny, singled out alone, fulfilled.’”

“That’s the spell?” asked Sunset.

Celestia nodded.

“But what does it mean?”

“From one to another refers to going from a unicorn to an alicorn, while another to one refers to the wings he would need from another race to become one.

“Starswirl’s ‘destiny,’ as it were, was being a unicorn. Thus, ascending to alicornhood would have changed that destiny to fulfill his desires. Having wings and a horn would mark him as an alicorn, and singled out alone, of course, refers to his attempt to rely on no one else to accomplish it.”

Sunset pondered that for a few moments. It seemed a little confusing at first, but made perfect sense when you thought about it.

“Though Starswirl eventually accepted my wisdom, Stardust did not. He believed Starswirl had every right to finish the spell. Again, I’m not entirely certain whether it was a desire for knowledge that went too far, or just plain and simple greed for power.”

Sunset let out a little huff. “This Stardust character… he reminds me a lot of me.” Her eyes faded out. “He told me so many lies, but for some reason… I can’t hate him. He seemed so sympathetic to my suffering and past, encouraging me when I was feeling doubtful about what I was being asked to do. He offered me advice and power and tried to keep me on the right track when my mind strayed towards less savory thoughts. It was all an act, but he played his part of the dutiful mentor to perfection. It was hard to believe he wasn’t really Starswirl. Although… he did ask me to call him Stardust Flare, his stated reason being he didn’t want Celestia’s false honor.”

“He did get into the heads of many a pony, but thankfully he was never able to cause serious damage. I believe in the beginning his rage was so potent that it scared other ponies away. It was only when he calmed himself down that he began to seek manipulation as a means of keeping others under his control.”

“So what happened next?” asked Rarity.

“Starswirl felt that he could still continue on with his more advanced experiments by using the jewel’s ability to hold magical energy. After all, the process he was planning to use to gain power was more or less just for simplicity’s sake. He didn’t care about alicornhood itself. It was just a means to an end not to need an outside source of power. It could take weeks to infuse enough power into jewels to use as a substitute for the power he didn’t possess on his own.

“Starswirl told me that he’d been having a hard time with Stardust in trying to get the stallion to just let things go, and I found that a little worrisome. I trusted Starswirl to keep an eye on him, but Stardust… well, as you yourself said, Sunset, he was skilled at manipulation. He pretended to be over things, while secretly advancing the spell all the while. He prepared the jewel, modified the spell repeatedly to something he felt would be workable, and feigned calmness the whole time.

“Starswirl did eventually find him out, just as he was preparing to try the spell out for real. I had been having trouble sleeping that night. I had a bad feeling I just couldn’t shake. I decided to pay a visit to Starswirl. He was usually a night owl.

“A few royal guards accompanied me, as they always do when I’m out. When I arrived at Starswirl’s house I heard a commotion within. Believing my worries to be correct I busted the door open, and after following the sound I saw a terrible sight.”

Celestia’s eyes grew dim.

Sunset took a crack at it. “Starswirl was dead, wasn’t he?” she asked somberly.

Twilight glanced quickly at Sunset then back to Celestia. “Is it true? Stardust killed Starswirl?”

Celestia slowly nodded. “That is correct. I’m not sure what spells Stardust had used, but it was clear just from looking at him that Starswirl had been murdered. It was one of the few times I’d ever lost my temper. He hadn’t yet ascended but he did possess great power from the Amulet. It wasn’t equal to mine, but I knew he could not be allowed to make use of that spell.

“When it seemed like he would lose he became desperate. He didn’t have time to chant the spell and activate its effect, so he used a different spell to seal his spirit inside the Amulet.”

“Wait! Hold on!” Sunset said suddenly. “He sealed HIMSELF inside it? He said that you were the one that did that.”

“It was just another lie. He deliberately took an attack as he cast the spell in order to deceive me into thinking I had finished him off. There are anti-teleportation spells, and of course I used one. Thus, he was unable to get out of there easily. When he realized there was no escape he took the only route open to him, and discarded his pony body, fusing it with the jewel. Stardust was lifeless, and his body was wounded, so I was certain I had finished him off.

“I don’t know if Stardust knew he wouldn’t be able to make use of the Amulet’s power on his own, but I suppose it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. He didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.”

“So what happened after that?” asked Sunset. “Stardust said that after he was sealed a thief stole it.”

Celestia nodded. “As a testament to Starswirl I put the Alicorn Amulet on display, not knowing that Stardust was sealed in it. It was eventually stolen by someone, and from then on it popped up here and there, but I was never able to retrieve it and put it somewhere safe once I found out the truth. Now that it’s been destroyed for good I feel relieved. It can no longer corrupt other ponies again.”

They all digested what they had learned about their foe.

After a minute or two Celestia said, “I have a few questions for you, Sunset.” Looking down at Sunset she asked, “How did you get the Alicorn Amulet? And why did you put it on? And, finally, what did he say to you?”

Sunset looked down at the ground again. “I was scared of meeting you, so Twilight sent me to Zecora’s place to sleep. While helping her brew potions I made a mistake and wound up causing a lot of damage. As I was cleaning up I found it under her bed. It looked like it would fit in a jewelry box I found nearby. When I tried to lift it up I felt something strange, like I experienced all my deepest fears in one moment. I jerked and hit my head right after that, so the feeling didn’t last.

“I remembered reading about it a long time ago. I recalled the power increase and the magical lock, but the last important thing, the one about corrupting the user, wouldn’t come to me. I admit… a part of me felt bad about trying it on, but another part of me was excited to try it out. That’s when he began to talk to me.”

Sunset felt a burning shame in her stomach. With a sigh she continued, “He brought forth a lot of things I had thought in the past to get me to turn against Celestia. He told me he was Starswirl to try and earn my trust, though I had my doubts about that at first. I came around eventually because Stardust felt just like the closest friend you could have.”

“HOW?” Rainbow asked. “That smug, arrogant jerk certainly didn’t feel like a friend I’d want to have.”

“Stardust was a master manipulator,” said Celestia. “His ability to enter his host’s thoughts and memories allows him to be whatever his host wants him to be. In this case he was just fortunate that Sunset formerly had a grudge against me.”

Sunset rubbed her forehead. “Yeah. Everything he said to me came from my own thoughts and feelings, so it made me feel justified in my anger.”

“Hold on a second!” Shining said, annoyed. “So this Stardust jerk ignited your anger for Celestia. I get that. Why were you trying to kill Twilight?”

Sunset let out a quiet groan, rubbing her forehead harder. “Convenience. If I attacked Celestia then Twilight would intervene. And he told me that Twilight was simply Celestia’s brainwashed minion. He also sent me a vision in the middle of the night of Celestia assaulting Twilight and stripping her of her true self so she’d be obedient.”

She slapped her hoof to her face several times. “Stupid, stupid, stupid! It’s all so stupid sounding on this side of the fence! It all made so much sense when he was manipulating me, but now I can’t believe I ever fell for it.”

Turning to Twilight she asked, “Are you okay, Twilight?”

“In what regard?” she responded.

“In our final clash Stardust told me the truth about using me the whole time. Because of your dark magic he decided to abandon me as a host to try and grab you. And he succeeded.”

Twilight grimaced, looking away. “Well… I have to say the same as you. I can’t believe I ever put that thing on, but in the moment it felt like it made perfect sense.”

“Are… are you going to be okay?” she asked hesitantly.

“Well… I…” She opened her eyes, looking around at her friends. “I don’t know yet. I want to beat myself up over it, but I don’t want Rainbow to yell at me too. After all, she made a very good point: this day ended with no deaths and everything resolved. You can’t ask for better than that. I will use what happened here today as another lesson to drill into my head.”

Celestia beamed at Twilight. “Everyone has a little darkness in their hearts. What makes the difference is whether or not you can acknowledge it and deal with it.”

“Well, I know I’m not going to do it alone. I’m going to need all my friends to support me as they always have.”

Sunset got an odd look on her face as something occurred to her. “Princess Celestia?”

“Yes, Sunset?”

“While Cadance and Stardust were fighting I went to retrieve the Element I had stolen. After he attacked me… something odd happened…” Sunset drifted off, her brow furrowed in concentration.

“Odd, how?” asked Twilight.

“Well… that final attack he threw at me… it didn’t hurt at all.”

“One of the others musta shielded you then,” said Applejack. “That seems obvious.”

“But how can that be?” Sunset responded. “Rarity doesn’t know shield magic, Cadance was busy fighting Stardust, Twilight was exhausted, Shining was incapacitated by that earth wall, and Celestia was trying to help him down. There was no one to shield me.”

Cadance let out a thoughtful “Hmmm.” Turning her head she asked, “Shining, Celestia? Did either of you protect Sunset at the end?”

Shining shook his head. “I could barely breathe. I wouldn’t have been able to focus.”

“And I was too busy trying to help him,” added Celestia.

“This makes no sense,” said Twilight. “Someone had to have shielded Sunset, otherwise how did she survive to send me the Element?”

Sunset sniffed as the memory came to her. “I think… well… this might sound crazy, but…”

“Yes?” said Pinkie. “What happened?”

“I think the ones that saved me were… my friends.”

“Your friends?” asked Rainbow. “But all of us were in the shield.”

She shook her head. “No… not you guys. Or, at least, this world’s version of you guys. His attack itself didn’t hurt, but when I fell to the ground I landed right on my back hoof, and it hurt a lot. I was in too much pain to move, but then… the miracle happened: just when I was about to give up, my friends came to visit me. Rainbow Dash was first, scolding me for trying to do things alone. Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Pinkie all showed up too, offering me companionship and encouraging me to keep going on.”

She put a hoof to her heart. “It was them that truly saved the day. Without their feelings lifting me up I would have failed at getting the Element to you.”

Several of them looked at one another. Twilight was staring thoughtfully at Sunset. “So… you’re saying you saw all your human world friends?”

She nodded. “Exactly as I remembered them before I went through the portal.”

“So they were humans, then? Not ponies?”

Sunset sucked on her cheek. “Yes, that’s right. I suppose that’s kind of odd. When we went through the portal, we both became humans to fit the world we were transported to. It would stand to reason that if they went through the portal they would become ponies like all of us.”

“And… what happened to them?” She took a quick look around. “If they were that concerned for you then they should have stayed by your side.”

“Even when I got the Element I didn’t have the strength to teleport anything. They told me to put it on and ask for some power. I was hesitant, naturally, after what happened the last time I put it on. They all sat on the grass, and we each held each other much like we did before we healed Spike. The Element didn’t respond to me at first because I was still thinking too much of myself. I wanted to be the one to help you, but once again my friends scolded me, reminding me that we are not individuals. Our strength is only at its greatest when we combine our hearts and fight as one.

“When I thought of it like that the Element of Magic graced me with a small bit of power, and I knew only you, Twilight, could wield it to its true potential. So I delivered it to you. Right after that, though, my friends had vanished, and I fell unconscious.”

Celestia adjusted her wings a bit. “I believe I understand what happened.”

“Yes?’ Sunset replied, interested to hear her take on it.

“The Elements are not like the Alicorn Amulet. The Amulet had a consciousness inside, with a personality and goals and such. However, the Elements do not have any such thing.” She scratched her chin thoughtfully. “How do I explain this? Although the Elements do not have a consciousness they do have an intelligence. They do not think, but they judge their wielders. So in a sense they have the capabilities of a consciousness, but do not actually possess one.”

“I… kinda get it,” said Twilight. “If they didn’t have some ability to judge then anyone could wind up using them.”

“Correct. When Sunset was separated from the Amulet she realized the wrong she was responsible for, and quickly decided the best course of action to rid us of Stardust for good. However, that alone did not make Sunset a worthy candidate.

“It was when Sunset made the choice to sacrifice her own life to protect the Element, her heart spurring her to guard our most powerful weapon even if she died in the process, that the Element saw fit to share a little of its power with her.”

“So you’re saying… that it was the Element itself that protected me?” asked Sunset.

“In the human world,” said Twilight, “the Element of Magic Sunset was wearing protected me from her when my human world friends threw themselves around me to save me from her attack.”

“It is a great symbol of courage to give up one’s life for the sake of allowing others to survive,” said Celestia.

Twilight gave Spike a squeeze. “I totally agree with that.”

Spike just grinned at the attention.

“I believe the Element recognized that in you, Sunset. And similarly it did one other thing for you.”

“One other thing?” she asked. “What did it do?”

“As we just saw when we healed Spike, the Elements of Harmony are a power that is used to boost harmony, hence the name. It could sense the danger Stardust posed, but it could not give off its true power by itself. It needed its companions.”

“So what did it do?” Sunset asked again.

“Can’t you tell?” Celestia extended a hoof, putting it on Sunset’s chest. Sunset looked down at it. “The Elements are reflections of the heart. When you put on the Element in the human world your heart was exposed for all to see, and you turned into a rampaging monster.”

Sunset grimaced, then grinned weakly. “Yeah, I can’t deny that.”

“The Element simply gave you what you needed, both to embrace your potential and for the good of Equestria. Your five friends from the human world… they were real only in your own mind.”

Sunset looked up at her. “So you’re saying they weren’t really here in Equestria?”

“As was pointed out they remained humans even though they should have been transformed by the portal. They showed up mysteriously right when you needed them, then just as mysteriously vanished as soon as you sent the Element away to Twilight.

"So, yes, I’d say the real things weren’t here, but they didn’t need to be. The real Sunset emerged because they encouraged you to keep going when you wanted to quit. They reminded you of what their friendship meant to you. And when your heart filled with the light of friendship the Element could finally open itself up to you and grant you a little bit of its power.”

Sunset thought of her friends again. Weakened as she was at the time it had seemed a miracle to her that her friends had showed up just when she needed them. That they were only manifestations of what lay in her heart was a little disappointing, but she still felt grateful to be able to see them again.

Her heart rate went up a bit. Now that they had discussed all they needed to about the origins of how things began there remained one last thing she had to ask. “Princess Celestia?”

“Yes, Sunset?” she replied.

She let out a heavy breath, averting her eyes at first but then holding her head up and looking Celestia in the eye. “So what happens to me now?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m… I’m ready to accept the consequences of my actions.” With a slight hesitance she added in, “I’ll accept whatever punishment you have in mind for everything that I did, both today, the last time the portal opened, as well as when I abandoned you.”

Celestia’s expression became unreadable.

“Come on, Sunset!” said Twilight. “Haven’t you experienced enough punishment? This is probably going to drag on your mind for a while.”

She ignored Twilight. “Please, Princess! I don’t want to just sweep this under the rug and pretend today never happened.”

Celestia and Sunset stared into each other’s eyes for a while, neither moving except for an occasional blink.

Twilight looked between the two, unsure of what to say. It was true that Sunset caused a lot of problems, but it wasn’t intentional on her part. She didn’t know what would happen when she put on the Amulet. And everything had turned out alright in the end. A part of her knew that it didn’t negate Sunset’s actions just because she hadn’t succeeded at her goal, but she wasn’t in her right mind when she did those actions. As soon as she was freed from Stardust’s influence she had done the right thing and saved them all. Didn’t that count for something?

Everyone else seemed to be waiting for Celestia’s say in the matter.

Celestia could see that Sunset wasn’t going to budge. Her former student’s face was set. “Very well,” she finally replied. “If you had returned apologetic I had hoped to be your teacher again, along with Twilight, but it’s clear that something else needs to be done.”

Sunset had a mix of fear and determination going through her. She didn’t know what Celestia would do to her, but she would face it.

Drawing herself up to her full height she said, “As ruler of Equestria I hereby proclaim that Sunset’s action require punishment. Thus, I am sentencing her to banishment, starting tomorrow. I shall decide the location and the duration by then.”

Sunset gave a timid nod. “Yes, Princess.”

Twilight felt a tear coming down her cheek. “Princess…” She let out a little growl. “This isn’t right!”

“Silence yourself, Twilight,” Celestia said in a scolding tone. “This is what Sunset herself asked for. I am actually proud that she’s ready to take responsibility for this.”

None of them looked too happy about Celestia’s proclamation.

“Please, Twilight,” Sunset said weakly. “Just drop it. I’m begging you. Don’t get mad at her for doing the right thing. This is hard enough as it is.”

Twilight started to talk several times, but eventually gave it up. She buried her head in a hoof, not agreeing at all with what was going on. Sunset had saved them all.

Ultimately, it wasn’t her decision. Lifting her head she asked with a sarcastic tone, “So what about me? I put on the Alicorn Amulet too. Am I getting banished as well?”

The tense atmosphere in the room tightened considerably. They had forgotten about that little detail.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Twilight!” said Sunset angrily. “You’re a needed element in Ponyville. Without you who is going to help power the Elements of Harmony?”

Everyone else looked nervously at Sunset before turning back to Celestia.

Celestia didn’t answer for a while. Finally she said, “You did put on the Amulet, yes, but ultimately didn’t do anything with it. You were easily persuaded to abandon your crusade once you saw it would put your friends in danger.

“As for Sunset, it was simply good fortune that Spike survived this ordeal and you managed to retrieve the Element from her the last time she showed up. Her actions nearly doomed Equestria twice.

“Now, that is enough talking. I will leave Sunset in your care until tomorrow. I’ll expect you to keep an eye on her so she doesn’t run from this, but I really don’t expect her to try to leave now. That is all.”

With another flash all of them except for Celestia were now in the library.